A narrow but emphatic win in the traditional Group 2 Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup (3200m) lead-up event, the Nathans Memorial (2200m) at Ellerslie on Saturday, has New Zealand trainer Shaune Ritchie convinced he has enigmatic stayer Swords Drawn near his peak for the two-mile challenge.
Ritchie will be looking for a measure of revenge with the six-year-old gelding he prepares in partnership with Colm Murray after Swords Drawn was hampered at a vital stage in the 2021 edition of the Cup, before running on resolutely to finish eighth behind Ocean Billy.
This year Swords Drawn has had to overcome a chequered preparation after suffering a fetlock injury in the Listed Metropolitan Trophy Handicap (2500m) at Riccarton in November, which has had Ritchie and Murray playing catch-up to get the miles into his legs for the Ellerslie contest.
Ridden superbly by Taiki Yanagida, Swords Drawn produced a dogged home straight challenge to poke his head in front right on the post on Saturday and raise the confidence levels in his camp as he prepares to produce a similar effort next Sunday.
“It was a lovely ride by Taiki and a good effort from the horse as we have been battling a bit to get him ready for the Auckland Cup,” Ritchie said.
“When he ran in the Metropolitan down at Riccarton he went down on a bumper in front and it has taken this long to get him right.
“His last start was much better where he ran on in the Taranaki Cup, so we were hopeful he would go well on Saturday as he doesn't mind that Ellerslie track.
“He travelled nicely and got into the clear at the right time before finishing off strongly, so we are pleased leading into next week.”
Ritchie is hoping that the predicted rain for the Auckland region next week will come as he believes a slower surface will play into his hands.
“I think I saw the forecast is for some rain on Friday which would suit us,” he said.
“He likes it with some give in the track and I'm hopeful he will go a good race as he has always threatened to win a race like this.
“He can be an enigma at times as he throws in the odd, puzzling run now and then, but this year he seems far more tractable.
“We know he has had a limited preparation, but we have poured the work into him in his trackwork, and he will be fit enough to go a top race.
“Strangely enough Dad ran second in the Cup with Showcause, while my grandfather also ran second with Terrific so if I could win it, then there are a few bragging rights up for grabs.”
Bred by Bob Emery, Swords Drawn was a NZD$140,000 purchase by Ritchie out of the Cambridge Stud draft during the 2017 National Yearling Sale at Karaka.
He has now won five of his 32 starts for just over NZD$241,000 in prizemoney.
Bookmakers have him listed as a +1100 chance for the Auckland Cup on March 13, with the Mike Moroney and Pam Gerard-trained Sound the +250 favourite.